What could be the reason for the presence of so many Bakla, the third sex, in the Philippines?
To me it looks if there are more than ever before. I visited the Philippines for the first time 25 years ago and I live here now almost 5 years. To me it seems that the number of Bakla is growing by the year. In this article I am trying to find answers.
The Spanish conquistadors who came to the Philippines early in the 16th century, to their great surprise found men dressed as women, who were not only fully accepted by the community, but even acted as second wives of married men. These ‘men’, not only dressed as women but also had that female behavior, were an amazing discovery for the Spaniards. Not only because of their appearance, but also because of their role in society. The bayoguin, as they were called, had status and authority. They fulfilled a religious function and acted as agents of the visible and invisible world. They changed evil spirits into good ones, were predicting the future, had healing powers and mediated in quarrels between husband and wife. Even the datu (village leaders) treated them with respect.
Old scriptures of the Spanish era showed that they maintained sexual relations with men of the community, who treated them as mistresses. The bayoguin were respected because they were not seen as men with a different sexual orientation, but as a kind of woman or as something between a man and woman. The influence of the Spanish culture, which was characterized by machismo and Catholicism, crumbled the status of bayoguin slowly but surely. They were no longer seen as a kind of third sex, but as an aberration, a ‘stray’ man. Even the name changed. Nowadays they are not called the bayoguin but a word derived from a local bamboo: Bakla, which means ‘confused’ and ‘cowardly’.
A ‘real man’
Who visits the Philippines, inevitable will bump into a Bakla on a certain moment. On a typical weekday, they walk around in ‘full uniform’ and show openly who they are and what they are. The visitor will fast come to the conclusion that it seems a generally accepted phenomenon, because the presence of Bakla is not limited to the big cities. Even in small villages they can be found, though perhaps not an everyday phenomenon, but certainly no rarity. Therefore many people might think that homosexuality is a generally accepted phenomenon.
But this is a wrong conclusion.
In Western societies, homosexuality refers to people who are attracted to their own sex. A Bakla, at least a traditional Bakla, does not have sex with another Bakla. The Bakla considers himself a ‘pusong babae’: a man with a feminine heart. He is not necessarily transsexual, and not every Bakla is interested in a sex-change operation. The Bakla is literally a third sex. He is attracted to men, and that makes him gay, but not in the Western sense. The man the Bakla sets his mind to, must be a heterosexual man, a ‘Tunay na lalake’ – a ‘real man’.
Time changes. The term Bakla is now no longer reserved for female men who sleep with heterosexual men. Even men who are homosexual in the Western sense, are now designated Bakla. Have times also changed in the sense that Bakla re-conquered their status from before the arrival of the Spaniards? It is not surprising that the answer to that question is negative. Three hundred years of Catholicism has left its mark, and Bakla are allowed or tolerated, but it should not get too crazy.
The flamboyant gay actor from the soaps, the effeminate hairdresser, or the extravagant beauty parlor: yes. But your own child is gay? People prefer to be silent about it. It is from this silence, and from the explicit rejection of homosexuality by the Catholic Church, that during the nineties from last century gay movement has started and more and more homosexuals and Bakla are getting open about their sexuality.
Although Filipino society is surprisingly tolerant of Bakla’s, there is an clear superiority of the ‘traditional’ sexes over the third sex.
the third sex
Bakla behave if they are females, and are very flamboyant. They often dress like women, grow their hair long, wear make-up, have female mannerisms and often even try to speak like women. They often actually identify themselves as women and use typical female names.
Sometimes they take hormones for their breasts to grow or have breast implants and occasionally they undergo sex change operations. Sometimes it is even hard to recognize a Bakla between women.
“Miss Gay Philippines” is a beauty pageant for Bakla’s. The participants show swimsuits and dresses, like in other beauty pageants. Many of the Bakla’s that participate in such contest actually resemble female models that participate in non-gay beauty contests.
Are all Bakla gay?
Themselves they do think so and even call themselves like that, but personally I think there is a difference between Bakla and gay men. Not all gay men behave like Bakla but openly show that they are gay. They do not dress or behave like woman what Bakla always do.
A few Bakla examples:
- hairdresser: Ricky Reyes
- entertainment: Vice Ganda
- sex industry: in different parts of cities where many tourists go, like Ermita. The Bakla there often approach foreigners and offer their sexual services. Some have even female voices ….
An example of a gay not being a Bakla is, in my opinion, Boy Abunda, a tv host who clearly admits he is gay and also acts as such, but never behaves like a woman. He wears extravagant clothing, but never behaves or acts like a female.